EppsNet Archive: Work

Our Most Valuable Asset

15 Nov 2017 /

The annual “People First” awards were given out at the office today. I don’t mean to be cynical but I was reminded of an old Dilbert comic . . .

Dilbert


Tech Gender Bias: Men Not as Concerned

24 Oct 2017 /

According to LinkedIn:

Despite a string of revelations that women in tech face considerable headwinds — from persistent gender-based pay gaps (per Bloomberg), to limited VC funding for female-led startups (per Fortune), to sexual harassment (per The New York Times) — just 29% of men say that discrimination is a major problem in the industry, according to data from Pew. In fact, some 32% of men claim that it’s not a problem at all.

Everything I read about gender discrimination in tech starts out by assuming it’s a real problem and that all reasonable people agree that it’s a real problem.

Even the supposedly objective LinkedIn blurb above tells us that 29% of men “say” that discrimination is a major problem, while 32% of men “claim” that it’s not a problem at all, “despite a string of revelations blah blah blah . . .”

I’ve worked in tech for 30 years . . . I say it’s not a problem but I’m open to an evidence-based argument that I’m wrong. (NB: “If you can’t see it, then you’re part of the problem” is not an evidence-based argument.)

 

Some possible evidence for gender discrimination:

Gender

Just look at the numbers. It’s a male-dominated industry.

Agreed, but that’s not prima facie evidence of discrimination.

I worked with a nursing organization for five years. Nursing, you may have noticed, is a female-dominated profession. During that time, I never heard one person mention gender bias in nursing. Never. In five years.

Most schoolteachers are women, most therapists are women, most social workers, most MFC counselors . . . I could go on with this but I think we both get the point: Have you ever heard anything about gender bias in any female-dominated profession? I haven’t.

Gender imbalance is not evidence of discrimination. Men and women are different and they choose to do different things. More women choose to be nurses and social workers and more men choose to be programmers.

Limited VC funding for female-led startups

VCs would love to fund more female-led startups, but again, men and women choose to do different things and more men choose to do startups.

Note that there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of women starting small businesses, but more men choose to pitch VC-funded startups.

Gender-based pay gaps

Gender-based pay gaps are not specific to the tech industry.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is not specific to the tech industry.

Online harassment

If you think online harassment is limited to women, you haven’t spent much time online. Standards of discourse are nonexistent. Civility is almost non-existent.

Jump on Twitter for a few minutes and see how people talk to each other.

I’ve been interacting with people on the web for a couple of decades . . . some of the things people have said to me . . . it’s beyond upsetting . . . you can feel the blood draining out of your face as you’re reading it. It’s not limited to women.

Women are passed over for raises, promotions, plum projects, etc.

Yes . . . so are men. What’s your hypothesis? Men are passed over because they’re undeserving, while women are passed over just because they’re women?

 

TL;DR -> Women are capable of making decisions for themselves. For the most part, they choose to do things other than work in tech and do startups. So what?

Thus spoke The Programmer


What Does a Programmer Do?

8 Oct 2017 /

I was asked to give a talk last week to a high school computer science class on “What Does a Programmer Do?” (I’m indebted to Jim McCarthy for the “lords and ladies of logic” section.)

 

Programming is problem solving.

Programmer

At the highest level, the problem that programmers solve is that people want to be able to do things with computers that they can’t do. And by computers, I don’t mean just the kind of computers you have on the desks here, I mean phones, watches, cars . . . more and more different kinds of devices are running software.

So one good thing about being a programmer is that pretty much every field of endeavor now uses software and data.

You can work at a tech company like Microsoft or Google or Twitter or Facebook, but you can also work in healthcare, finance, education, sports . . . you can work on cancer research, you can write video games . . . everybody uses software and everybody hires programmers.

Programming is a good job if you want to be learning new things all the time, if you don’t want to do the same things over and over.

The dark side of this is that it can be daunting trying to keep up with the pace of technological change. It can be overwhelming.

I was asked once in an interview, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned in the last week?” If you haven’t learned anything in the last week, it’s hard to answer that question, let alone if you haven’t learned anything in a month or a year. It’s easy to let your career slip away from you.

Programming has been a good job for me because I’ve been able to make a living doing things I like and things that I’m good at. I’ve always liked solving problems and building things.

To me that’s a good job: you do things you like and things that you’re good at. I don’t think most people can say that. Most people seem to be like “I hate Mondays,” “Thank god it’s Friday,” “Thank god it’s Thursday because it’s almost Friday.” If you spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like and you’re not good at, that’s a bad job.

As a programmer, you’re given problems to solve and a set of tools with which to solve them. You need to be able to figure out “what do i need to do, what do I need to learn, to be able to solve these problems with these tools?”

Self-reliance is good. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Know when to ask for help.

Asking for help is a no-lose strategy. Worst case, you ask for help and someone can’t help you or won’t help you, but you’re not any worse off than you were in the first place.

The demand for programmers exceeds the supply and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, and 25 percent of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. Those people are not going to be programmers.

In a time of ubiquitous software and intellectual lethargy, programmers are like the priests in the Middle Ages. We are the lords and ladies of logic. We’re in charge of rationality for our era. We’re bringing common sense and sound judgment and aggregated wisdom and glory to everyone.

That’s our job.


We’re Dreamers Too

6 Sep 2017 /

There are lots of people who went to school, worked hard, provided for our families, raised our kids, tried to do the right things . . . no one lionizes us but we’re dreamers too . . .

A Real American


To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

30 Aug 2017 /

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology.

I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is.

Young female technologist

I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around.

As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.”

Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen to men and I’ve had bad things happen to me. I’m also aware of bad things happening to women in other professions. We’ve all had our ups and downs.

How to explain this? Bad things happen to women because they’re women and bad things happen to men because — what? We deserve it?

You’ve probably also read a lot of articles about a “diversity chasm” in tech, usually written by women who work in tech and can’t understand why every young woman in America is not making the same career choices they themselves have made.

Women, like any group, are under-represented in some professions (like tech) and over-represented in other professions — education and health services, for example.

Is a software engineering career objectively better than being a nurse or a teacher or a therapist or any of the careers that women seem to prefer?

I’m happy to admit that I don’t know what the “right” male-female ratio is for any given profession and that I don’t know what other people should be doing with their lives.

Programming has been a pretty good career for me — I like to build things and I like to solve hard problems — but I’ve spent most of my life alone in a room or cubicle staring at a computer screen. It’s not for everyone. There are pros and cons like any other job.

I don’t have a daughter but my son never took an interest in programming and I never pushed him to do so. He graduated college with a degree in business. I have no reason to think his life will be less fulfilling because he’s not working in a technology job.

TL;DR:

  • Don’t pursue a technology career because someone else thinks you should.
  • Don’t pursue a technology career to make some point about gender roles in society.
  • Don’t be scared off by inaccurate (IMO) generalizations about anti-female culture.
  • Follow your heart.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


American Workplace: Grueling, Stressful and Surprisingly Hostile?

15 Aug 2017 /

Washington (AP) — The American workplace is grueling, stressful and surprisingly hostile.

So concludes an in-depth study of 3,066 U.S. workers by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles. Among the findings:

— Nearly one in five workers — a share the study calls “disturbingly high” — say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work . . .

If nearly one in five US workers finds their workplace hostile or threatening, that means more than 4 in 5 workers do not find their workplace hostile or threatening.

Assuming these two groups are not in completely separate workplaces, does this finding say something about the workplace or about the people who perceive a hostility that a large majority of their colleagues do not perceive?

Another finding:

— Telecommuting is rare: 78 percent say they are required to be present in their workplace during working hours.

Notice that in this case, 22 percent of workers doing something — telecommuting — is considered “rare,” while less than 20 percent perceiving a hostile environment is considered “disturbingly high.”


Remote Work on the Decline

27 Jul 2017 /

According to LinkedIn:

IBM, Aetna, Reddit, and Bank of America are among a growing list of companies slashing remote work policies. It’s not because employees working from home are less productive; rather, many companies think in-person collaboration just can’t be beat.

I get that. It’s easier to work with people in the same room than with people at some distant point in time and space.

But I can’t help noticing that there are more companies willing to hire hordes of itinerant trainees in a foreign land to write important software (i.e., “outsourcing”), than to let employees write software 15 minutes from the office in their own home.


How to Tell If You’re Too Busy

17 Sep 2016 /

A colleague shared this on Slack:

Busy Guy

It’s a slide from a presentation given by somebody somewhere . . . it’s hard to read but the gist of it is:

In the past, I’ve worked every holiday, on my birthday, my spouse’s birthday, and even on the day my son was born.

I asked the guy who shared it, “How do the birthdays fit in there? I don’t even remember when my spouse’s birthday is, but I certainly didn’t work on the day my son was born.”

“I think he meant on the nights of the birthdays,” was the reply.

“Was he working on the night his son was conceived? I bet he was. He seems like a very busy guy.”


Who Does Amazon Fresh?

17 Jul 2016 /

Our office uses Amazon Fresh to get food delivered, so when a colleague posts “Who does Amazon Fresh again?” on the messaging system, what he means is “Remind me who is responsible for placing the Amazon Fresh orders.”

Here is the actual answer: “I think it’s a company started by Amazon the online retailer.”


Is Tech Addiction Making Us Far More Stressed at Work?

27 Jun 2016 /

I like this juxtaposition of links on themuse.com. “Is Tech Addiction Making Us Far More Stressed at Work?” sandwiched in-between links to 25 Chrome extensions and 10 apps that you must have in your life right now>

Is tech addiction making us more stressed?


Apple Employee Found Dead at Company Headquarters

30 Apr 2016 /

Apple employee found dead at company headquartersCNN Money

I have never known anyone who died at work, although I’ve seen a couple of close calls.

My dad died of a heart attack at home on a Monday morning when he normally would have gone to work. If he’d been able to hang in there a few more hours, he could have died at the office.

I also worked with a fellow quite a few years ago who was in the office on Friday and died over the weekend. We heard about it on Monday. It wasn’t super shocking because he was an older man and not in the peak of health. He looked like John Huston with one day to live.

That was a terrible company. I remember thinking, “Well, at least he doesn’t have to come to work today.”

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Dad vs. Stupidity

14 Apr 2016 /

I overheard one of my colleagues saying to another, “My dad is really opposed to any kind of stupidity.”

I passed that along to my own son: “If you want to describe me in that way — ‘My dad is opposed to stupidity in all forms’ — it’s okay with me. I mean, you don’t have to if you’re not feeling it but I can think of worse ways to be remembered.”


Overheard (Slack Version)

1 Apr 2016 /

Employee X [8:55 AM]
I bumped the HVAC up one degree for the entire office. Got a few comments about it being too cold yesterday. Let me know how today is y’all.

Employee Y [9:18 AM]
half a degree too warm

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Overheard

28 Mar 2016 /

Overheard


You Look Like an OAF

25 Mar 2016 /
Dark glasses

A colleague shows up in the office today with dark glasses and a toothpick in his mouth.

“It’s my OAF look,” he explains.

“Is that an acronym or are you spelling the word ‘oaf'”?


Programmer or Parolee?

15 Mar 2016 /

Our office building is next door to a probation field office . . .

I have a game I play in the parking lot each morning: Programmer or Parolee. I spot someone, guess if he’s here for a programming challenge or a meeting with his parole officer, then wait to see if he shows up in our office.

If a methed-out skinhead comes in for a programming challenge, I lose today’s game.


Chuck and Chip

11 Mar 2016 /

I’d like to work with a guy named Chuck because I like the word “upchuck,” as in “What’s up Chuck?” That’s something I would say a lot.

It’s also a dream of mine to work with someone named Chip so every day when one of us went home I could say “Goodbye Mr. Chip.”

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More People I’m Sick Unto Death Of: Second-Guessers

8 Feb 2016 /
Super Bowl 50

I spent my lunch hour listening to co-workers second guess the Panthers offensive play-calling in yesterday’s Super Bowl. I don’t like second-guessers, for a couple of reasons.

  1. Once a game is over, it’s easy to say the team that lost should have done something different. Feel free to advance any theory you want since there’s no way to wind back the clock and falsify it. It’s like taking a test when you already know the answers. It gives you an opportunity to make yourself sound smarter than the people who had to take the test without knowing the answers.
  2. What are the odds that someone with his fat ass parked on a sofa watching the game really came up with a better play-calling strategy than the coaching staff of a team with 17 wins and 1 loss?

Free Advice on Free Advice

5 Feb 2016 /
Shoulder pain

Today a colleague offered to fix the pain in my shoulder. “Sounds like a problem with the connective tissue,” he said. “I can push it back into place.”

“No,” I said. “No no no no no no no.”

“Why not? Are you homophobic?”

“Not wanting you to touch my shoulder is not homophobic.” Also this guy is not gay.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I was trying to think of a nice way to say that.”

“I have a gift for this. I’ve helped a lot of people.”

“You might be able to fix it. Probably you could. On the other hand, you might, just perhaps, push on it the wrong way and I lose the use of my left arm. Not worth the risk.”

He then recommended that I go to a health food store and buy some red something-or-other algae to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Which I’m not going to do . . . If someone recommends a movie I should see, I might check that out. Even if it turns out to be terrible, which it usually does, I’ve only lost a few bucks and a couple hours of time. Same with a restaurant. Or a book.

But on medical matters, when someone says “You should go to a health food store and buy some of this product and eat it,” I’m not going to do that because if I do that, and I die . . . because the recommender didn’t know anything about my health condition, medical history, medications I might be taking, didn’t know anything about chemistry, biology, pharmacology . . . I’m dead and the person who told me to do that is scratching his head going, “Hmmmm, that never happened before. Maybe I should have gone to medical school to actually learn something.”


Spartans Are Overrated

1 Feb 2016 /
Spartan Race logo

Some of my work colleagues participated in a Spartan Race this past weekend, which seems like a good way to acquire a bacterial infection but to each his own.

Slightly off-topic but Spartans didn’t fight very well and instead of fleeing, they let themselves all be killed by Persians . . . so I’ve always wondered why Spartans have become synonymous with positive qualities like commitment and toughness and resilience, instead of being remembered as milksops with cool headgear . . .


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